Chile says companies to invest $754 million in lithium industry

FILE PHOTO: Eduardo Bitran, Executive Vice President of the Corporation for the promotion of production (CORFO), speaks during an interview with Reuters in Santiago, Chile, January 16, 2017. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido/File Photo

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s development agency Corfo said on Friday that companies from China and South Korea, as well as Chile, had been approved to make investments of around $754 million in the red-hot lithium industry.

The companies selected in a bidding process to develop technology focused on the lithium market were Chile’s Molymet and China’s Sichuan Fulin Industrial Group, a joint venture between Samsung SDI Co Ltd and South Korea’s POSCO.

Corfo said that within two years the companies would be ready to produce about 58,000 tonnes of cathode per year, the main material in lithium batteries.

The Atacama salt flat is part of the so-called “lithium triangle” in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, a region containing a large portion of the world’s lithium reserves.

Investment and output have increased in recent years as demand for electric vehicles surges.

Also on Friday, the mining ministry said in a statement state-run miner Codelco had signed a contract to mine lithium from the Maricunga deposit, without giving details on potential partners or investments.

It would be the first foray into lithium for the world’s top copper producer. Corfo said in January it had struck a deal with miner SQM that would allow Codelco to begin lithium development in Maricunga.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Diane Craft